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Gaurav Agnihotri

Gaurav Agnihotri

Gaurav Agnihotri, a Mechanical engineer and an MBA -Marketing from ICFAI (Institute of Chartered Financial Accountants), Mumbai, is a result oriented and a business focused…

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Is Elon Musk Just A Billionaire Welfare King?

Is Elon Musk Just A Billionaire Welfare King?

Elon Musk is undoubtedly one of the most charismatic billionaires in business today, one whose electric cars have created a cult following and whose companies, Tesla Motors Inc and Solar City Corp., have proven popular among investors.

However, The Los Angeles Times recently reported that Musk’s Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and SpaceX have received $4.9 billion in a variety of state and federal incentives. Does this mean that the Los Angeles-based entrepreneur has created his empire largely with the help of government subsidies? Is Elon Musk just a billionaire welfare king who has benefited hugely from government grants, discounted loans, tax breaks, government incentives and the sale of environmental credits?

Let us have a look at the companies and the amount of subsidies that underlie Elon Musk’s success so far.

Tesla Motors Inc.

Tesla is set to receive an incentive worth $1.3 billion from the state of Nevada in order to build a new battery factory called the ‘gigafactory’ near Reno. Nevada initially offered Tesla its standard incentive package that was in the range of $600-$700 million, but after several rounds of tough negotiations a deal was finalized that also included tax credits worth $195 million which Tesla could sell for cash. Related: Kurdish Oil Exports Under Threat

Moreover, anyone who buys a Tesla is eligible for a $7,500 federal income tax credit, while residents in California can receive an additional rebate of $2,500 from the state. The sum total of federal tax credits for all Tesla vehicle sales stands at $284 million, while total California rebates reach about $38 million.

Tesla Motors Inc. even gets large pay checks from its competitors in the form of environmental credits. California has adopted regulations that require car manufacturers to buy environmental credits if they fail to sell enough zero-emission cars. That works to Tesla’s benefit. So far Tesla has raised more than $517 million from rival automakers by selling credits, allowing them to comply with environmental regulations.

In all, Tesla Motors Inc. has received close to $2.391 billion in form of government subsidies.

SolarCity Corp.

Tesla isn’t Elon Musk’s only source of government largesse.

SolarCity also takes advantage of a variety of government incentives. The federal government allows a 30 percent tax credit through the provision of an Investment Tax Credit (ITC) to the users of SolarCity Corp.’s solar panel systems. The company has reportedly received direct grants worth $497.5 million from the Treasury Department. SolarCity is also getting a $750 million investment from New York for its plans to build a solar panel factory in Buffalo.

So far, SolarCity Corp. has benefited from $2.516 billion in government subsidies.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Founded in 2002, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. or SpaceX is a manufacturer and designer of advanced rockets and is the first commercial company to ever visit the international space station. SpaceX has received government contracts worth $4.2 billion from NASA and the U.S. Air Force. Apart from this, the company has also received a $20 million subsidy to construct a launch facility in Texas.

How do these subsidies compare with the oil and gas industry?

“If I cared about subsidies, I would have entered the oil and gas industry,” Musk said in response to the aforementioned LA Times article. Looking closely at the history of oil and gas subsidies, we find that the U.S. government has provided the industry with $470 billion over the last century, according to a report from Mother Jones. Today, Oil Change International, an advocacy group, says that taxpayers pay nearly $5 billion each year in federal subsidies that promote exploration and development of new fossil fuel resources, a more or less similar amount that Elon Musk’s businesses have received so far.

Source: Mother Jones

U.S. President Barack Obama has been trying to remove fossil fuel subsidies for years. “You can keep subsidizing a fossil fuel that’s been getting taxpayer dollars for a century, or you can place your bets on a clean-energy future,” he said on the campaign trail in 2012. Related: Oil Markets Could Be In For A Shock From China Soon

However, his proposals have gone nowhere in Congress. Oil Change International says that oil subsidies have in fact grown by almost 45% since Obama took over office in 2009, mainly due to increases in the value of tax breaks and incentives resulting from greater oil and gas production.

Source: Mother Jones

Are such vast sums of money justified?

“The article makes it seem as though my company is getting some huge check, which is fundamentally false,” Musk has said in response to questions about subsidies.


However, Musk cannot deny that his company does indeed receive some huge incentives from the federal government. The rationale behind providing any subsidy is to develop a promising new technology that can be better, cheaper and cleaner than the current available option.

The Mother Jones report finds that renewables receive around $7.3 billion per year in subsidies. Renewable energy companies might argue that their industry is still relatively young, sort of like the oil and gas industry was a century ago. By that logic, subsidies for solar, wind, and electric vehicles make sense – government assistance is helping them get off the ground.

Over time, the government subsidies allow new technologies to advance and bring down costs, allowing for much wider adoption by the general public. For now, Tesla’s are out of reach for most people. People who can afford a $100,000 + per car are the ones whose annual household income tends to be around $320,000. Related: A Glut For Natural Gas Too?

But speaking to CNBC, Musk emphasized that Tesla wants to eventually create an affordable EV for the masses, although the economies of scale required for that kind of a development are not there at the moment. Musk thinks that could change by 2017.

On the other hand, SolarCity Corp is already offering several affordable schemes to its customers, making solar a competitive option for reducing consumers’ electricity bills. It is worth noting here that both Tesla Motors and SolarCity have reported net losses in the last few years, however their share prices have soared thanks to positive investor sentiment. Elon Musk currently holds around $10 billion in these two companies (SpaceX never discloses its financial performance).

Spending $4.9 billion per year in taxpayer money may or may not be a wise investment. Eventually, Tesla could make cleaner vehicles and clean electricity entirely mainstream. A century of public assistance has helped create Big Oil. Only time will tell if Elon Musk can do the same with Tesla and SolarCity.

By Gaurav Agnihotri of Oilprice.com

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  • american welfare machine on June 11 2015 said:
    thought all "job creators"got tax breaks,incentives after all aren't they supposedly "job creators".the percent of "job creators"gettin handouts is roughly100%.big gov is desperate to "create jobs",so if it takes billions of someone else's cash to spurn these supposed "job creators" so be it
  • David Hrivnak on June 11 2015 said:
    Sorry but VERY misleading. Yes I have drank the koolaid and have two EV's and solar panels. I am now free of the more than $3500/year I used to pay for gasoline and electricity. Try it and you will never go back to big oil, and their even larger tax breaks.
  • David Hrivnak on June 11 2015 said:
    I fully agree we need to stop all subsidies for electric vehicles, solar and other renewables. But let's start AFTER we end all subsidies to the Fossil fuel industries. As soon as those tax breaks stop the reduce all "green" subsidies by 20% a year. Then in 5 years they will be on a level playing field. And we won't quibble that fossil fuels had a 100 year head start.
  • Mueller on June 12 2015 said:
    Does he take federal money? Yes? Then he is working on the taxpayers dime.
  • Jasper on June 12 2015 said:
    Wind and solar are not new technologies. They are as old as the solar system and the planet. When it is attempted to use large scale wind and solar to power modern electric power grids, the incredible incompatibility between intermittent and unpredictable energy -- and a finely balanced power grids that only works when power is available on demand to match variable loads -- becomes clear.

    Individual mooches such as Hrivnak, Buffet, and Musk will naturally tout the benefits of big wind and big solar. Due to federal largesse, these unreliable technologies provide a net benefit -- sometimes into the billions for Musk and Buffet.

    For ordinary taxpayers, they are just one more cause of hemorrhoids, headaches, power blackouts, and empty wallets.
  • David Hrivnak on June 12 2015 said:
    Jasper how about I repay you for my solar tax credits if you repay me for what I paid for the Gulf war to keep your oil flowing. Oil is a dying businees. We now have better and cleaner options.
  • Matt on June 12 2015 said:
    Lol, Tesla is coming for all of you oil lovers
  • Mario Herger on June 12 2015 said:
    Compared to the trillions of dollars spent in wars to secure oil supply from the Middle East and massively subsidize companies such as Haliburton, whatever Elon Musk got seems like peanuts. And I rather have him get the money with pushing into new technologies than giving it to those that haven't innovated and just keep destroying stuff (Gulf of Mexico, military).

    Read more: http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Is-Elon-Musk-Just-A-Billionaire-Welfare-King.html#ixzz3cuI8KWyl
  • David Hrivnak on June 16 2015 said:
    Jasper how about I repay you for my solar tax credits if you repay me for what I paid for the Gulf war to keep your oil flowing. Oil is a dying businees. We now have better and cleaner options.
  • Anti-Subsidies on June 16 2015 said:
    The whole story is misleading. The fact Musk has gotten huge subsidies is downplayed with the story "oil gets subsidies too". This is just a childish and silly argument. The graphs are also misleading. The amount of subsidies that renewables get are many times greater then oil if you look at the percentages of energy produced. The graphs show that renewables have received twice as much as oil and produced a fraction of the amount of energy needs.

    The facts are that without government subsidies no one could afford renewable energy. Elon Musk is a great businessman, but he is living off government subsidies.
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